Home / Military, Military Time

Phonetic alphabet -NATO -Military alphabet

Posted by  Josh  on  July 14, 2019  in   Military, Military Time

Table of Contents

The modern Military Phonetic alphabet


Most people have come across the military alphabet. It is always mentioned in video games, action and war movies, and even in novels and comic books. You may not know why it is used or how and why it was created. It has been one of the most efficient examples of tactical radio communication in the United States as well as across the globe.
This article seeks to explain more concerning the history of the military phonetic alphabet together with its purpose, the components and the reasons why particular characters were put to use.
First, lets us have a quick check of the table that references every letter and the corresponding code before engaging in a detailed discussion.

Alphabet Code word
A Alpha
B Bravo
C Charlie
D Delta
E Echo
F Foxtrot
G Golf
H Hotel
I India
J Juliet
K Kilo
L Lima
M Mike
N November
O Oscar
P Papa
Q Quebec
R Romeo
S Sierra
T Tango
U Uniform
V Victor
W Whiskey
X X-ray
Y Yankee
Z Zulu

A brief history of the Military alphabet

The ICAO Phonetic Alphabet

Long before the creation of the modern military alphabet, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) established the first spelling alphabet that was later on recognized worldwide. It was called the ITU Radiotelephonic or phonetic Alphabet, approved by ITU in 1927. Many changes were applied to the first version of the spelling alphabet in 1932. The later and improved version was then embraced by the International Commission of Air Navigation to be utilized in civil aviation purposes until the start of World War II. Nevertheless, it was an asset by the International IMO until 1965.

ICAO PHONETIC ALPHABET

Alphabet Code word
A Amsterdam
B Baltimore
C Casablanca
D Denmark
E Edison
F Florida
G Gallipoli
H Havana
I Italia
J Jerusalem
K Kilogram
L Liverpool
M Madagascar
N New York
O Oslo
P Paris
Q Quebec
R Roma
S Santiago
T Tripoli
U Upsala
V Valencia
W Washington
X Xanthippe
Y Yokohama
Z Zurich

ABLE BAKER

The American and British agencies previously came up their own spelling alphabets before the two were interested in using the ICAO Phonetic alphabet in 1956. The American forces used the Navy Phonetic/Joint Army Alphabet; the British used the RAF alphabet.

As years passed, the emphasis was put on working out a comprehensive way that would enable all military branches to work together. In 1941, the American alphabet was given the name Able Baker. The word originates from A and B, the first two letters of the alphabet. All branches of the military eventually used it.

Later in 1943, the British made changes to their own phonetic alphabet so that it was almost as identical to that of the Americans’ Able Baker. The aircraft and ground personnel for civil aviation commonly used the Able Baker system. Many sounds were somewhat similar to the English language and that is why a new model of the alphabet was created in Latin America called the Ana Brazil alphabet.

The International Air Translation Association (IATA) had to draft and present an alphabet to the ICAO in 1947. This was after rising demand for a universal alphabet system. The drafted version had sounds, which were common in English, French, and Spanish.

After more changes were made by numerous approving agencies, an updated phonetic alphabet made its debut in 1951.

THE REVISED ABLE BAKER ALPHABET

Alphabet Code word
A Alpha
B Bravo
C Coca
D Delta
E Echo
F Foxtrot
G Golf
H Hotel
I India
J Juliet
K Kilo
L Lima
M Metro
N November
O Oscar
P Papa
Q Quebec
R Romeo
S Sierra
T Tango
U Union
V Victor
W Whiskey
X Extra
Y Yankee
Z Zulu

THE MODERN MILITARY ALPHABET

Problems were soon identified with the revised Able Baker system. Some of the words were difficult to comprehend with the poor radio communications while other words were quite challenging to differentiate, like Extra and Delta. Many looked back and preferred the former original Able Baker to handle these issues.

Further studies were conducted and in the end, five words within the alphabet were changed. These were letters C, M, N, X and U. ICAO established a recording of the new alphabet and made it known to all the member states in 1955.

The ICAO later initiated the altered version in 1956. The ITU arranged for the updated version to be used by the civilian, all military and amateur radio operators. Ever since its introduction, it has been the most popular version of the military alphabet up to date.

Modern Military Phonetic Alphabet

Alphabet Code word
A Alpha
B Bravo
C Charlie
D Delta
E Echo
F Foxtrot
G Golf
H Hotel
I India
J Juliet
K Kilo
L Lima
M Mike
N November
O Oscar
P Papa
Q Quebec
R Romeo
S Sierra
T Tango
U Uniform
V Victor
W Whiskey
X X-ray
Y Yankee
Z Zulu

Some code words for specific letters have been changed over the years. There are two reasons for this occurrence. First, in some countries, some languages do not have the sounds required to make the words therefore, they cannot be clearly transmitted. The second reason why was, some of the code words that were used earlier sounded the same as other code words being used. Later, code words were researched and selected to resolve the two issues.

Name changes

Since the beginning of the spelling alphabet, there have been many changes including character changes. The changes are made by organizations that form, modify, or use the alphabet the most like,

  • ICAO Phonetic Alphabet
  • International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet (IRSA )
  • NATO Spelling Alphabet or the NATO Alphabet
  • ITU Radiotelephonic/Phonetic Alphabet


These days, the NATO Alphabet is the most popular. The army alphabet entails more than simple code words for letters. Numbers must be clearly communicated as well, irrespective of the quality of communication connection and the surrounding noise pollution.
To make sure that communication with numbers was received and correctly understood, the pronunciations of specific numbers were changed to ward off confusion

Number Pronunciation
1WUN
2 TOO
3 TREE
4 FOWER
5 FIFE
6 SIX
7SEVEN
8 AIT
9 NINER
0 ZERO

The Importance of the NATO Alphabet

Chances of messages being misunderstood increase when communications are sent using the standard Alphabet like A, B, C, D, E, F and so forth. For instance, if the sent message was ‘Rally at grid DM1098’, it could be confused by GN1098 or CN1098 or many other similar-sounding letters, especially during the gunfire, poor communication channels, low flying aircraft or when there is a great deal of noise in the area.

The message should rather be transmitted as ‘Rally at grid Golf-Mike-WUN-ZERO-NINER-AIT’, there are fewer chances of confusion or being misunderstood. The message will, therefore, be well received as it was intended, word by word.

The internationally recognized military Phonetic alphabet is found in maritime operations, civil navigation, armed forces, and law enforcement agencies in many countries worldwide.

Some Other Interesting posts you might like.